Izzit an Izzard, or izzit an art?

[from artslink.co.za]

Christina Kennedy: English stand-up comedian (and “off-duty transvestite”) Eddie Izzard is currently packing out venues across South Africa, proving once again that Saffers love a good laugh.

But should we be concerned that it’s only the big international names that attract mega-audiences, while local comics languish in envious self-pity in their damp, rat-infested garrets? Somehow, I don’t think there’s cause for concern (and occasionally languishing in the odd garret is great for character-building, anyway).

In recent years we’ve seen the likes of Chris Rock, Steve Wright and Wayne Brady playing to sold-out houses here. Last year, Irish comedian Jimeoin also enjoyed capacity audiences on the Main programme of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

My feeling is that rather than taking audiences (and ronts) away from South African comedians, these international bigwigs rather serve to enhance and enrich the local stand-up comedy scene. Some, like Rock, have even made impromptu appearances at local comedy clubs. Others have South Africans opening for them (Jimeoin had Dave Levinsohn warming up the audience last year – and it was a revelation being introduced to this seriously funny dude).

All of these visits by overseas laughmongers (and the efforts of comedy-crazy broadcasters like Alex Jay) seemed to have helped stoke interest in the local stand-up scene. This is evident by the success of the various festivals and comedy jams around the country, and by the fact that comics like David Kau, Barry Hilton, Riaad Moosa, Stuart Taylor, Nik Rabinowitz, John Vlismas and Marc Lottering appear to be earning a decent living out of standing on a stage and making daft observations.

Izzard is in the country for a series of shows, travelling to Cape Town and Durban and ending on Sunday at the Joburg Theatre, in support of Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign. With tickets priced at up to R1000, it’s just as well the proceeds are going to charity. But clearly laughaholics are coughing up nonetheless – recession, what recession?

What I found particularly interesting about Izzard’s Joburg show on Wednesday night was the broad, international flavour of his humour. I often ask South African comedians what they talk about on stage when they tour overseas, because surely much of the subject matter that local crowds howl at falls on stony silence in foreign climes. Naturally, they try to talk about more general topics.

I would say that Izzard has got that comedian’s wet dream ideal of “universal humour” – clich├ęd though it may sound – down to a fine art.

He started off the show rather stiltedly and much of the laughter from the audience appeared brittle and forced – you know, the whole “rock star” awe thing. But he came back after interval on fire: seemingly revived and suitably wired and manic, perhaps fortified by the surprise birthday cake and choral serenade that rounded off the first half.

In between holding forth on the wretched “terms and conditions” of software updates and extolling the virtues of Wikipedia, Izzard went on an wildly wacky trek through the history books, from the big bang to the stone age to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Sort of a “Horrible Histories meets A Short History of Nearly Everything (but very much abridged, simplified and subverted). If I’d had this bloke as my history teacher, I might actually have stayed awake in class!

You see, Izzard’s humour is not base or crass. His entertaining stream-of-consciousness ramblings (I nicked that bit from Wikipedia – his secular bible) – which all seem unrelated but, implausibly, seem to connect to each other at some stage during the show – are feverishly well-informed and fiendishly clever, and you need to concentrate to keep up. Not that it’s at all snobby or snooty, but you could say he delivers upper-LSM laughs.

The show – attended by local luminaries as well as the likes of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson – was a total hoot. Even God seemed inclined to join in, tossing in some menacing thunder rumbles overhead after Izzard made no bones about his atheism and repeatedly invited the Almighty to pop in and prove him wrong!

Written by Momo in: Tour Reviews |

1 Comment »

  • u write a smashing review. Eddie is one of a kind and his followers are truly grateful for his tenacity in honing his craft.

    Comment | February 8, 2010

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